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To Advocate or not to Advocate? It's Not a Question at Sea Grant

Director Steve Bortone

Every now and then, some well-intended folks challenge the Sea Grant staff to take a more active role in defending a particular environmental issue. It is obvious why they want us as advocates; our staff members are on the cutting edge when it comes to information about their area of expertise.

I can honestly say that most Sea Grant staff members, including myself, would love to weigh in, grab the banner, and be front row advocates for many environmental issues. The problem is that, regardless of our personal feelings, the nature of our jobs prevents us from being advocates or taking an advocacy position.

Let me explain why.

The National Sea Grant College Program is a partnership between the U.S. federal government and the various state university systems to fulfill a particular but very important role in our society — “to produce and transfer science-based knowledge for a sustainable coastal environment and economy by engaging the nation’s universities, the nation’s citizens, businesses, and governments.” More specifically, the University of Minnesota’s Sea Grant mission is “to work with people and communities to help maintain and enhance the environment and economies along Lake Superior and Minnesota’s inland waters by identifying needs, funding research, and translating results.”

At Minnesota Sea Grant, we take our mission and our national directive seriously. By funding research projects, we strive to discover the new information regarding issues that are important to the public. Moreover, we are dedicated to taking the results of these research efforts and offering them, and other useful technical information, in understandable and unbiased formats.

In these times, when everyone seems to put a “spin” on everything, hoping to slant information toward a personal viewpoint, be assured that Sea Grant does not intentionally put a “spin” on any of its data or interpretations of research. Our job, if done well, is to serve as a reliable source of scientific information.

It is important to me, and to my staff, that Sea Grant stays above the fray of politics, personal bias, and “spin.” We want to serve as honest brokers of environmental information. The data and information that you get from us is top quality and recent. If we were to take an advocacy position, then our data and presentations would be suspect – and rightfully so. Of course, you may take the results of our efforts and use them in any way you like.

So the decision to advocate or not to advocate is not really a question here at Sea Grant. On second thought, Sea Grant is indeed an advocate – an advocate for the best scientific data and information currently available.

Steve Bortone signature

Steve Bortone
Minnesota Sea Grant

By Steve Bortone
May 2007

Return to May 2007 Seiche

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